ANYONE who doubts Usain Bolt’s popularity need only turn up at Hampden tonight. There they will hear him get one of the biggest roars of these Commonwealth Games, when he takes to the track with his Jamaican team-mates for the 4x100 metres heats.
Not bad for a guy who missed his national trials, ruling out his chances of running the 100m or 200m here, then kept the Commonwealth guessing as to whether he would turn up for the relay, only confirming his involvement after the 20th Commonwealth Games had already got under way.
The attention and adulation he received at that press conference signalled the role he would play for the rest of the event, especially in the media.
But, as the global name and global brand has long since realised, that fame can be a double-edged sword. On Wednesday he dismissed a newspaper story that claimed he had been less that complimentary about the Games and the city of Glasgow.
“I’m waking up to this nonsense. journalist please don’t create lies to make headlines,” he said on Twitter, while his agent Ricky Simms added that the reports were “utter rubbish”.
But it was a row which threatened to turn him from Games hero to pantomime villain. After all, not many people get away with disparaging Glasgow. Self-deprecating by nature, the people don’t mind taking a dig at the city themselves, but woe betide anyone else who tries it. Memories are long and forgiveness is usually denied.
But, despite the alleged criticism by Bolt of the host city, which the newspaper stood by on Thursday, the reception he will receive is likely to be a warm one.
While pundits and media people were getting hot and bothered on the friendly city’s behalf, the majority of the ordinary punters seemed happy to accept his later comments that, in fact, he thought the Games were “awesome”.
There is never a dull day on the trail of the Jamaican sprinter. Just as his press conference on Saturday had been a full house, brimming with silly questions and sycophancy, his training sessions have been monitored as closely as any and speculation has been rife.
Every nuance of body language, every minute of training is put under the microscope, with those who believe he is only here to appease the sponsors still eagerly anticipating a late withdrawal.
That surely would rile the home fans more than any supposed slur. But, according to those who follow the Jamaican for athletic reasons and not for a glimpse of what he is eating, who he is dating or whether he is looking a tad gloomy in the drizzle, he will be part of the quartet contesting tonight’s heat and hoping to win gold as the curtain goes down at Hampden tomorrow.
One Jamaican journalist described the furore as “ridiculous speculation”, adding that Bolt just wants to run in what would be his first Commonwealth event and the chance for his first Commonwealth gold.
As he addressed the media at that initial press conference, Bolt was as emphatic as he could be in trying to dispel rumours that he still may not run.
The incredulity was clear. Why would he travel all this way if he wasn’t planning to take to the track? Of course he would compete in the relay and not only that, he wouldn’t simply swan in for the final. The qualifying races were important, he said, as training had been going well but he was still shy of race sharpness.
With that kind of response, it’s unsurprising that the journalist was almost as fed up as Bolt himself with the non-stop rumours and negativity. He said that unless Bolt was injured he would run.
He added that as of the end of his training session he wasn’t injured and as such he expected him to line up with his fellow Jamaicans for the relay and saw it as unreasonable for anyone to presume otherwise.
The hope is that, with the 100m champion Kemar Bailey-Cole in the team as well, the spotlight would be shared. It was something the 22-year-old was hoping for as much as his older colleague.
Speaking after he defeated England’s Adam Gemili on Monday, the gold medallist, who has spent most of his fledgling career in the shadow of Bolt and Yohan Blake, said: “It feels very good to have the spotlight on me for once. I’m not looking towards Usain. I’m just looking towards me, and achieving my dreams – winning as many races as I can and getting as much gold.”
To do that he will need Bolt’s help in the relay. Unless the naysayers actually do have it right and he is only here for the headlines.